Manchester District Library Book Club discussion

O Pioneers! (Great Plains Trilogy #1)
This topic is about O Pioneers!
2016-2017 Season > November 2016 Discussion: O Pioneers!

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Shea | 196 comments Mod
Please comment with your thoughts/feelings on the book. Thank you.

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Patty | 102 comments Mod
Our book discussion just finished reading O Pioneers! by Willa Cather, written in 1913, whose title she borrowed from one of Wallt Whitman’s poems from 1865. A story of strength and the spirit, just like the praise Whitman recounts in "Pioneers! O Pioneers!". Cather describes Alexandra’s brothers: “Like most of their neighbors, they were meant to follow the paths already marked out for them, not to break trails in a new country. A steady job, a few holidays, nothing to think about, and they would have been happy. It was no fault of theirs that they had been dragged into the wilderness when they were little boys. A pioneer should have imagination, should be able to enjoy the idea of things more than the things themselves.”

My friend, Julia, met someone the other day that mentioned Langston Hughes and an apropos poem, "I Too, Sing America", for our particular time and place that is based on the poem by Whiman, "I Hear America Singing." Then Julia found a poem on the same topic, different time, by Julia Alvarez, "I, Too, Am America." Those poems were so right on. It always amazes me how fewer words by the right poet can describe situations so much more than…..say, an essay or even a novel. However, Cather understands and relates to the characters in her novels that represent a part of America that we may or may not know about. I want to read her other novels and understand more about people.

It would be fun to discuss who Today is writing about people with strength and spirit and what we should be reading…besides writers like Alvarez and Hughes. And seeing if they can capture the strength and spirit of America the way Cather did.

Shea | 196 comments Mod
My review:
I really enjoyed this short novel chronicling pioneer life in Nebraska at the beginning of the 20th century. Although it is said to be a story without a hero, I disagree. In my eyes, Alexandra is a hero because anyone who has a dream, works hard, paves their own way and perseveres despite loss and hardship deserves the title. I wish I would have read this when I was younger because I was always looking for female characters I could admire.

message 4: by Mary (last edited Jan 16, 2017 12:42PM) (new)

Mary Vigilanti | 2 comments I FORGOT to come to the book discussion!!! I was really looking forward to reading this book. My mother had read this book and the other two in Willa Cather's trilogy about Swedish immigrants when she was researching and writing her family history. Her grandparents had settled in Iowa, where they farmed and raised a family.

I thought I had read this book, but it was so long ago, that I don't remember the story or I never read it. These quotes about the Swedes stuck out for me:

"... the skin is of such smoothness and whiteness as none but Swedish women ever possess; skin with the freshness of the snow itself.

Ivar speaking "The way here is for all to do alike...

"The Norwegian and Swedish lads were much more self-centered, apt to be egotistical and jealous. They were cautious and reserved with Emil because he had been away to college, and were prepared to take him down if he should try to put on airs with them.

"I believe there is a good deal of the cow in most Swedish girls... We're a terribly practical people, and I guess we think a cross man makes a good manager.

Emil speaking "The worst of Swedes is that they're never willing to find out how much they don't know... Always so pleased with themselves! There's no getting behind that conceited Swedish grin.

"The land belongs to the future ... We come and go, but the land is always there. And the people who love it and understand it are the people who own it--for a little while.

"Marie ... sat with the ease that belongs to persons of an essentially happy nature, who can find a comfortable spot almost anywhere; who are supple, and quick in adapting the selves to circumstances.

This is not a happy story. Life was not easy. They had to work hard and deal with whatever circumstances came their way.

My mother writes about her parents:

"Myron and Hazel learned early to survive hard times through ... perseverance. The 1930's brought depression, drought (four years in a row), tornado damage to their first home, and their second home was destroyed by fire while they were vacationing in North Dakota. In 1937 Myron's father ... left the Hayes Center farm that he had lost to a loan company and was renting. Myron moved onto his home place March 1937 and rented it until 1941, when the government required the loan companies to sell. Myron's farm was up for sale; it was next to a miracle that he and Hazel acquired the farm--thanks to the PCA.

"Myron saw tremendous changes in farming methods and equipment during his working life...

"The spirit of neighborliness shone when Myron fractured his back in the fall of 1949 when the ladder he was on fell over. A plowing bee of seven men came to his aid the following spring. Myron survived another serious farm accident Jan. 1966 when his leg was injured in the power takeoff on his tractor.

Willa Cather does a good job bringing the reality of what life as a pioneer was like. My grandparents were children of pioneers. But they had similar struggles and like pioneers, they survived through hard work and perseverance.

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Patty | 102 comments Mod
Good review, Mary. Glad you liked it. I'd like to read more of Cather.

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